Friday, 29 April 2016

Guest Top 5 - Top Five Secular/Atheist Anthems by The Autumn Stones

It's been almost two years since I last had a guest top five to publish so here's a very welcome contribution from Canadian dreampop band The Autumn Stones. Written & selected by guitarist & songwriter Ciaran Megahey who provides us his favourite secular anthems in no particular order. Once you've read this you should go and check out The Autumn Stones music either via the band's website or via ubiquitous streaming platform Spotify.

Photo: Alison Waddell ©2015

The 6ths - "The Dead Only Quickly"
According to the songwriter's liner notes to his masterwork, 69 Love Songs, Stephin Merritt is a "rabid atheist". He is also my favourite songwriter and although he rarely tackles religion in his work, when he does he does so with wit and style. In verse two of "The Dead Only Quickly," he seems to be offering some degree of sympathy with the faithful: "It would be swell / To see some folk burn in hell..." But then comes the rejoinder: "But when they go / It's just as pleasant to know / That the dead only quickly decay..." leaving the listener wondering whether there isn't a trace of feline irony lurking in the shadows. The Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon provides the masterfully understated vocal turn on this recording.

The Clash - "Rock The Casbah"
In the documentary film The Future is Unwritten, Joe Strummer describes "Rock The Casbah" as being about the inhumanity of religious fundamentalism. Not the kind of subject matter one expects to find topping the charts in 1982, but there you have it. I remember loving this song as a kid and love it slightly more now that I know what it's about.

Guided By Voices - "I Am a Scientist"
Another one of my all-time favourite tunesmiths: Robert Pollard. It's hard to imagine a finer moment in his extremely lengthy catalogue. "I Am a Scientist" comes across lyrically like his artist statement and perhaps the song that best defines him. Though making no mention of religion or faith whatsoever, it nonetheless seems to be about self discovery and finding meaning through art and being open-minded. "I know what's right / But I'm losing sight of the just unlock my mind / Yeah, to just unlock my mind..." A decidedly humble, secular and inspiring view in my book, making this song an appropriate fit on this list. I dare you to try to stop the hairs on the back of your neck from rising whilst listening.

Belinda Carlisle - "Heaven Is a Place on Earth"
This is another one that I remember from childhood as one of those songs that just makes your heart soar. It still does and as I read the lyrics to "Heaven Is a Place on Earth," I realized that this is pretty damn close lyrically to what I was trying to get at with one of my band's songs, "End Of Faith." Quoth Belinda, "In this world we're just beginning / To understand the miracle of living..." Dammit, she beat me to it. Heaven is a place on earth. And it is in the form of this song.

Kate Bush - "A Deal with God (Running Up that Hill)"
Yes, you read correctly: "A Deal with God" is the original, proper title of this Kate Bush classic. I am doing my part to help reclaim it! It was changed to "Running Up that Hill" at the behest of her fearful record company. Boooo! The public was very much ready for this — as its status as a classic attests. Hopefully, a lesson has been learned. The song isn't about religion; Kate Bush says it is about the misunderstandings that arise between men and women because of their differences. Still, the $uits feared that the lyrics would be interpreted as sacrilegious. They kind of are, actually — and that's why this song made it on this list (in addition to the fact that it is awesome).


Friday, 22 April 2016

Chop's Gigs - Late Feb to Early April

2016 is shaping up to be a serious years for gigs, after failing to cut back in the previous two I've let the shackles off a bit this year and I suspect I'll be well over my "no more than 2 gigs a month" limit. It's hard to cut back though when every gig I see is so good.

Laura J Martin at Servant Jazz Quarters on Wednesday 17th February 2016 - This was Laura's first headline gig for sometime though I have managed to catch her once already supporting Meilyr Jones. In her time away from the UK live scene she's been to Liverpool, Japan and most recently Nashville where she recorded her third album and first for new label Kartel. Matt Swanson and Tony Crow of Lambchop fame encouraged her to record out there with producer Mark Nevers who's worked with a host of bands but has a history with both Lambchop and Bonnie Prince Billy.

Ezra Furman at Brighton Concorde 2 on Thursday 18th February 2016 - Ezra and his band have been playing bigger venues than the C2 of late but by some cunning venue selection the C2 is the biggest venue I've seen them in so far. They look like a band that's thriving in the spotlight, growing more confident in their abilities and still having fun. It's a perfect mix and this might just be the best gig I've seen them do.

Savages at The Roundhouse on Thursday 17th March 2016 - Savages proved they are at the height of their powers right now. Tonight was just as good as that 100 Club show. I think I like the new album more than their debut, they've definitely added some really strong tunes to the set. The balcony sound was decent, and though I felt a little dislocated from gig, the view was pretty cool especially when Jehnny Beth went walkabout across the crowd.

Meilyr Jones at Rough Trade East on Tuesday 22nd March 2016 - My very first visit to Rough Trade East and I'm blown away by how big it is. Crikey, I could lose a week in here and quite possibly be bankrupt by the time I got out. This is my second Meilyr Jones gig of the year, it won't be the last, and is another "buy the album/get a free gig" deal which is a fabulous development in modern record purchase schemes.

Kiran Leonard at The Lexington on Monday 4th April 2016 - I saw Kiran a couple of years ago at The Waiting Room in Stoke Newington. That was an enjoyable show but tonight Kiran and his band took things to a whole new level. Opening with the full seventeen minute version of Pink Fruit was a bold move and one that completely floored me.


Friday, 8 April 2016

Top 5 Instrumentals - Chop's Picks

Hot on the heels of last week's collaborative results these are my five favourite songs without singing. This turned out to be much harder than I expected. The collaborative vote is brilliant for flagging up tunes I've forgotten but in this instance highlighted just how many essential instrumentals exist. For every entry in my final top five there's another song I agonised about leaving out.

5. "Moya" Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Fifth place was a shoot out between two of my favourite bands, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Mogwai. Canadian post-rock collective versus Glaswegian post-rock punks. Both bands specialise in instrumental music which only made it harder for me to pick a stand out tune. Moya has long been my favourite GYBE track though and I really couldn't leave it out. Thanks to Wikipedia I've just found out it's a reworking of Polish composer Henryk Górecki's Third Symphony, which means I probably ought to track that down too.

4. "The Great Skua" British Sea Power - Originally a track from BSP's 2008 Mercury Music Prize nominated album Do You Like Rock Music?, it was then reworked as part of the band's soundtrack for the re-release of 1934 fictional documentary film Man of Aran. It's a soaring tune that works brilliantly with the black & white visuals and is simply magnificent live.

3. "Green Onions" Booker T & The MGs - This comfortably claimed the number one spot in the joint poll and rightly so. I got to know Booker T & the MGs via the Blues Brothers film and have loved them ever since. During the 60s & 70s they were the Stax Records house band and backed artists such as Otis Redding, Sam & Dave & Carla Thomas on a string of hit records. At some point during the late eighties or early nineties I saw them play live, at the Town & Country Club, under the Blues Brothers Band banner. Incredibly Booker T & Steve Cropper are still active.

2. "Theme from Midnight Cowboy" John Barry - As a child of the seventies who grew up in thrall to James Bond films, I was bound to include something by John Barry in this list. As with most of these artists it was hard to pick a favourite but this theme for John Schlesinger's 1969 drama is immaculate. I'm particularly fond of Toots Thielemans' haunting harmonica though, apparently, John Barry did not feel the same way.

1. "Rumble" Link Wray - 1958 this was first released. Take a listen to that guitar sound. It's so big & powerful no wonder it was banned. Link Wray has been credited with pioneering the sound that would later form the foundation of heavy rock and it's easy to hear why.

I could comfortably have included two other Link Wray tunes in this top five, Ace of Spades came close, but I particularly enjoy Jack The Ripper so here's a bit of added Link for good luck.


Friday, 1 April 2016

Collaborative Top 5 Instrumentals - RESULTS

An epic vote with loads of contributions for which I can only say thank you. I wasn't expecting there to be a clear top 5 as it seemed that every top 5 included a completely different set of songs. This wasn't the end of the world though as I knew I'd still have a brilliant playlist of excellent Instrumentals.

The Shadows, Brian Eno, David Bowie & Mogwai all scored four entries each but failed to make the top 5 with an indivdual song, while the list spans music as diverse as 808 State, Bert Jansch, Rush and Duran Duran. I also have to mention the best named tune by Thee Cee Cees who provide the topically titled Iain Duncan Smiths Weeping Hemorrhoids. There's a link to a Spotify playlist lower down with more than 230 tunes on it. It's a fine soundtrack and I'd have been happy if that was the only outcome of this vote.

As it turned out, there were tunes that enough people voted for to provide a worthy top five. The top three were comfortably clear of the rest, whilst below 12th place there was very little to split the songs apart.

5. Ride "Grasshopper" - Originally the b-side for single Leave Them All Behind then the title track of a Japanese EP. This is an 11 minute tour de force.

4. Durutti Column "Sketch for Summer" - The most popular of three contenders from Vini Reilly's Manchester based band. This is the lead track for The Return of the Durutti Column, the band's debut studio album released in January 1990. I have to admit to little knowledge about this band but this has enticed me to investigate further.

3. Link Wray "Rumble" - Link Wray's notorious debut single, banned in 1958 for fear it might incite a riot. Link had two other entries in the list (Jack The Ripper & Ace of Spades) and they're just as good. Anyone who can get an instrumental tracked banned has to worth a listen.

2. New Order "Elegia" - Originally released on the band's third album, Low-Life, this was written in memory of former band mate Ian Curtis. The seventeen and a half minute full length version eventually came to light on a retrospective compilation.

1. Booker T and the MG's "Green Onions" - Debut single from the Stax house band, number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1962 (despite having originally been put on the b-side of Behave Yourself).

Here's the Top 12;
1 Booker T and the MG's "Green Onions"
2 New Order "Elegia"
3 Link Wray "Rumble"
4 Durutti Column "Sketch for Summer"
5 Ride "Grasshopper"
6 Dick Dale "Miserlou"
7 Brian Eno "An Ending (Ascent)"
8 Rush "La Villa Strangiato"
9 British Sea Power "The Great Skua"
10 The Smiths "Oscillate Wildly"
11 Edgar Winter Group "Frankenstein"
12 The Tornadoes "Telstar"

Here's a Spotify playlist with most of the contenders;

Here's the full list in (more or less) alphabetical order;
808 State - Pacific State
A Winged Victory For The Sullen - Atomos VI
Adebisi Shank - Sensation
Aimee Mann - Nothing is good enough
Air - Ce Matin La
Air - La Femme D'Argent
Alasdair Roberts - Kilmahog Saturday Afternoon
Allman Bros - In Memory of Elizabeth Reed
Andrew Poppy - The Object is a Hungry Wolf
Aphex Twin - Ageispolis
Aswad - Warrior Charge
B. Bumple & The Stingers - Nut Rocker
Beach Boys - Let's Go Away For A While
Beastie Boys - Namaste
Beastie Boys - Sabrosa
Bentley Rhythm Ace - Bentleys Gonna Sort You Out
Bernard Herrmann - Taxidriver (Main Theme)
Bert Jansch - Angie
Beta Band - Rhododendron
Billy Joel - Root Beer Rag
Blondie - Europa
Bluetones, The - Blood Bubble
Blur - Intermission
Boards of Canada - Reach For The Dead
Boards of Canada - Roygbiv
Bob Mould - Sunspots
Bombskare - Fistful Of Dynamite
Booker T and the MG's - Green Onions
Booker T and the MG's - Time Is Tight
Boots Randolph - Yakety Sax
Brand X - Deadly Nightshade
Brian Eno - An Ending (Ascent)
Brian Eno - Another Green World
Brian Eno - Deep Blue Day
Brian Eno - Discreet Music
British Sea Power - Man of Aran
British Sea Power - The Great Skua
Brubeck - Take 5
Buzzcocks - Late for the train
Byrds - Stranger in a Strange Land
Cabaret Voltaire - Yashar
Camel - Lunar Sea
Captain Beefheart - Suction Prints
Chakachas - Jungle Fever
Champs, The - Tequila
Chantays, The - Pipeline
Charlatans - Theme from Wish
Chris Thile - The Beekeper
Clark - Banjo
Colourbox - The Official Colourbox World Cup Theme
Corduroy - Harry Palmer
David Bowie - A New Career In A New Town
David Bowie - Speed of Life
David Bowie - Neukoln
David Bowie - Warszawa
Death in Vegas - Dirge
Deep Purple - Wring That Neck
Depeche Mode - Nothing to Fear
Depeche Mode - Pimpf
Derek & Ray - Interplay
Dick Dale - Miserlou
Dirty Three - I Remember A Time When Once You Used To Love Me
Doves - Firesuite
Duane Eddy - Peter Gunn Theme
Duane Eddy - Shazam
Dubliners - Col Fraser & O'Rourke's Reel
Duran Duran - Tel Aviv
Duran Duran - Tiger Tiger
Durutti Column - All That Love & Maths Can Do
Durutti Column - Conduct
Durutti Column - Sketch for Summer
Eat Lights Become Lights - La Kraut III
Eddie Angel - Thunder
Edgar Winter Group - Frankenstein
Eels - Theme from Blinking Lights
EL&P - Fanfare for Command Man
Elton John - Funeral For A Friend
Ennio Morricone - Deborah's Theme ['Il Vizio di Uccidere']
Ennio Morricone - The Ecstasy of Gold
Explosions in the Sky - Your hand in mine
Faith No More - Woodpecker from Mars
Fantastic Something - 1000 Guitars of St. Dominiques
Felt - Buried wild blind
Felt - Textile Ranch
Field Mice - Tilting at windmills
Fleetwood Mac - Albatross
Fleetwood Mac - Underway
Focus - Hocus Pocus
Focus - Sylvia
Frank Zappa - Peaches en Regalia
Frazier Chorus - Spoonhead
Freddie King - Hideaway
Funkadelic - Maggot Brain
Galaxie 500 - Instrumental
Genesis - Los Endos
Genesis - The Brazilian
Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Gathering Storm
Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Moya
Goldfrapp - Oompa Radar
Gorky's Zygotic Mynky - Christmas Eve
Hank C Burnette - Spinning Rock Boogie
Hans Zimmer - You're so cool
Harold Faltermeyer - Axel F
Harry J & The Allstars - Liquidator
Hendrix - Star Spangled Banner
Herb Alpert - Lollipops & Roses
Inspiral Carpets - Memories Of You
Jackdaw With Crowbar - Scrape
Jakatta - American Dream
Jan Hammer - Miami Vice theme
Jean-Michel Jarre - Oxygene
Jean-Michel Jarre - Fourth Rendez-vous
Jeff Wayne - The Eve of War
John Barry - Midnight Cowboy
John Mayall's Bluesbreakers - Hideaway
John Williams - Jurassic Park
John Williams - Star Wars Cantina
John Williams (Guitarist) - Cavatina (Theme from Deerhunter)
Johnny Harris - Paint it Black
Karma To Burn - 20
Karma To Burn - 34
Keith Jarrett & Jan Garbarek - Luminessence
King Curtis - Harlem Nocturne
Labradford - S
Led Zepplin - Moby Dick
Lilys - Everything Wrong is Imaginary
Link Wray - Ace of Spades
Link Wray - Jack the Ripper
Link Wray - Rumble
Lou Reed - Dorita
Louis Clark & Royal Philharmonic Orchestra - Hooked on Classics
Man or Astroman? - Evil Plans of Planet Spectra
Man Or Astroman? - Eric Estrotica
Manual - Keeps Coming Back
Meat Puppets - Maiden's Milk
Metallica - Orion
Miles Davis - Spanish Key
Mmoss - War Sux
Mogwai - Christmas Steps
Mogwai - Hungry Face
Mogwai - Mogwai fear Satan
Mogwai - Summer
Monochrome Set - Andiamo
Monty Norman - James Bond Theme (John Barry arrangement)
Mr Bloe - Groovin With Mr Bloe
Neu! - Hallogallo
Neutral Milk Hotel - Untitled (1998)
New Order - Elegia
Nice - Theme from Nice
Nik Colk Void - Gold 'E
Nils Frahm - Says
Oasis - The Swamp Song
Orbital - Remind
OXES - Kaz Hayashi '01
Paco de Lucia - Entre dos Aguas
Pell Mell - Blacktop
Penguin Café Orchestra - Prelude & yodel
Penguin Café Orchestra - Silver Star Of Bologna
Percy Faith - Theme From a Summer Place
Pernice Bros - Discover a Lovelier You
Phil Upchurch - You can't sit down
Pink Floyd - Any Colour You Like
Pink Floyd - Pow R Toc H
Pixies - Cecilia Ann
Plank! - King Rat I, II, III
Prong - Intermenstrual DSB
Punch Brothers - Kid A
PWEI - Pwei vs Dirty Harry
Rain Tree Crow - Big Wheels In Shanty Town
Rainbow - Weiss Heim
Real Estate - April's Song
REM - New Orleans Instrumental No. 1
Ride - Grasshopper
Righteous Brothers Band - Rat Race
Rob D - Clubbed To Death
Rodrigo y Gabriela - Hanuman
Roni Size - Bite The Bullet
Rush - La Villa Strangiato
Rush - The Main Monkey Business
Rush - YYZ
Ry Cooder - Dark End of the Street
Ry Cooder - Maria Elena
Santo & Johnny - Sleepwalk
Shadows, The - Apache
Shadows, The - Scotch on the Socks
Shadows, The - Stars Fell on Stockton
Shadows, The - Foot Tapper
Silver Jews - The Right To Remain Silent
Simon Park - Eye Level
Simple Minds - Theme For Great Cities
Siouxsie & The Banshees - Quarterdrawing Of The Dog
Slowdive - Avalyn 2
Small Faces - Almost Grown
Small Faces - Ogden's Nut Gone Flake
Smashing Pumpkins - Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness
Smiths, The - Oscillate Wildly
Smiths, The - The Draize Train
Sonic Stealth Orchestra - A Design for Life
Steeleye Span - Robbery With Violins
Stephen Jones - Black Ice Cream
Steve Reich - Electric Counterpoint I-III
Stevie Ray Vaughn - Riviera Paradise
Stiff Little Fingers - go for it
Sub Sub (Doves) - Space Face
Surfaris - Waikiki Run
Surfaris - Wipe Out
Swanks - Ghost Train
Teenage Fanclub - Is This Music ?
The Beatles - 12 Bar Original
The Beatles - Flying
The Beta Band - Monolith
The Breeders - Flipside
The Busters - Bust Out
The Charlatans - Area 51
The Divine Comedy - Europe By Train
The Fall - Mansion
The Flower Kings - The Man Who Walked With Kings
The Go! Team - Everyone's a VIP to Someone
The Go! Team - Feelgood By Numbers
The Grifters - Fixed In The Sky
The Imprints - Free Ourselves
Smiths, The - Money Changes Everything.
The Wake - Brit Mix
Thee Cee Cees - Iain Duncan Smiths Weeping Hemorrhoids
Thee Milkshakes - Red Monkey
Tindersticks - Piano Music
Tired Arms - Ursa Minor
Tommy McCook - Starry Night
Tornadoes, The - Telstar
Van Halen - Eruption
Vangelis - Rachel's Song
Ventures - Little Green Bag
Ventures - Walk Don't Run
Willie Nelson - Bandera
Yann Tiersen - Comptine d'Un Autre Été: L'Après Midi
Young Marble Giants - Clicktalk
Zombi - DE3